Dinkytown provides lab for new Goodwill formula

Gina + Will, which opened in August, targets college-aged style and budgets.

Gina+Will General Manager, Danielle Stager, helps a customer checkout at the registers of the new Dinkytown shop on Tuesday. This consignment clothing store provides style at an affordable price for college students.

Liam James Doyle

Gina+Will General Manager, Danielle Stager, helps a customer checkout at the registers of the new Dinkytown shop on Tuesday. This consignment clothing store provides style at an affordable price for college students.

Haley Madderom

While Dinkytown has proved to be fertile ground for eateries and bars, it has served as a revolving door for apparel stores.

In 2002, Ragstock closed its doors after decades of business. Shops like Everyday People,  Covered boutique and Peppermint Park have also crawled off the Dinkytown map.

But Goodwill, which opened a “campus casual” branch called Gina + Will at the base of The Venue at Dinkytown
apartments late last month, sees Dinkytown as a laboratory for a new kind of store — one that’s less than one-fifth the size of a traditional Goodwill store.

The company’s staff combed through donations and tailored the shop’s merchandise of clothing, shoes and accessories with college students in mind, said Mary Beth Casement, a marketing product manager for Goodwill.

Prices at the store are also set with younger customers’ budgets in mind, said General Manager Danielle Stager, with the cost for many pieces falling around $15.

Among Goodwill’s 30-plus locations statewide, Gina + Will is the first store of its kind, Casement said. The company hopes to attract many of those already living in Dinkytown, especially University of Minnesota students, she said.

“This location is being used to test a lot of ideas,” she said. “We want to really understand this location and do it very well before repeating it anywhere else.”

Though the company doesn’t have plans for new locations, Casement said, research done by Goodwill’s Minnesota team showed that it would do well in Dinkytown.

The area’s population density and its lack of competing apparel stores make it an ideal breeding ground for the new shop,
Casement said.

Despite the vicinity’s rocky history of clothing businesses, former Dinkytown Business Association President Greg Pillsbury said he believes Gina + Will is a good fit for the area.

“Over the past 12 years, it’s really turned into a hotspot,” he said. “Some people don’t like the new development, but I think there’s a lot going on here.”

Leading up to the August opening, employees toiled away in a St. Paul warehouse examining, cleaning, selecting and pricing clothing, Stager said, “knowing that they were working for a retail store that they had never seen.”

Gina + Will does away with the large, crowded spaces of regular Goodwill locations. Employees lined the new store with trend racks that highlight certain fashions or particular pieces.

Those racks were an idea initiated by a University student employee and are a key strategy for the pilot business, Stager said.

“Trend racks are great for browsers, and they allow us to constantly change [stock items],” she said. “Since the store has opened, we have already changed several display tables and many mannequins.”

Elementary education sophomore Kristin Bryden said the store is just a 10-minute walk from her home. Unlike at her hometown Goodwill, she said it was easy for her to find clothes of her taste and age range at Gina + Will.

“Everything is nicely priced, and it’s not super expensive,” she said, adding that she felt there are few other clothing stores for students besides the University Bookstore.

Though female apparel currently makes up 70 percent of the store, Casement said, the staff is planning to fluctuate its stock based on customer feedback from social media.

Store developers settled on the name Gina + Will to make it clear that it would carry clothing for both genders, Stager said. But it’s also meant to emphasize that the store is a separate offshoot of the organization with its own attitude — “Goodwill off to college,” as she called it.

High school senior Carter Jones was shopping at Gina + Will and said he noticed the distinction.

“This is a lot nicer than Goodwill, but it’s like the same price,” he said.

 

Anne Millerbernd contributed to this report.